spiritual dance bhutan

Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon

12 April to 24 April 2014

Hidden away high amongst the mighty Himalayan range, the hidden kingdom of Bhutan is a destination that even the most seasoned traveller considers a privilege to visit. It is now one of the last strongholds of Tantric Buddhism with sacred monasteries sitting precariously on sheer cliffs, fluttering prayer flags lining high mountain ridges, red robed monks chanting in distant temples, and colourful masked dancers performing ancient rituals on sacred dzong (monastic fortress) grounds during Buddhist festivals. For centuries, monks and refugees from Tibet have settled in Bhutan’s hospitable and fertile valleys, ensuring close links between the cultures. Drawing on this heritage Bhutan soon developed a highly distinctive culture of its own and made it the essence of their timeless identity.

Bhutan only opened its doors to tourism in 1974, with the number for tourists visiting Bhutan kept to an environmentally manageable level through government regulated tourist tariff. A totally Buddhist kingdom, the Bhutanese are renowned for their happiness, and wear their national costume with pride.

Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon will expose you to the awe-inspiring mysteries that this land has to offer. From the landscapes of snow-clad mountains, lush valleys, dense forests and rushing streams, to hidden rituals in remote monasteries and the daily life in far flung rural communities.

Day 1: 12 April 2014, Adelaide to Singapore

Depart Adelaide at 10:40 with Singapore Airlines. Arrive in Singapore at 16:35 and transfer to overnight accommodation where the rest of the evening is free.

Day 2: 13 April 2014, Singapore to Paro

An early departure from the hotel to check-in and board your Druk Air flight to Paro via Kolkata. Arrive in Paro, the capital city of Bhutan, around 1040. As you leave the airport, your journey of discovery of the uniqueness of The Land of the Thunder Dragon begins. Here, each part of the sky and earth has a name from the sacred Buddhist scriptures. The plains below are “eight-petalled lotuses” (symbols of purity), the mountains which surround you are “elephants in repose” (symbols of strength), “proudly-posed lions” (symbols of courage), and “garuda birds taking flight”, (symbols of the loftiness of metaphysical views). Lakes which abound are “vessels of plenty” or cups of amrita [ambrosia]. The parts of the sky seen between the peaks are like “spirals of joy” (gakyil) or daggers representing the destruction of mental poisons of desire, hatred and ignorance. Every valley is a place of pilgrimage, every rock, river and cave you will see has its own unique spiritual history.

From the airport you drive directly to Paro dzong to witness the tsechu, one of the most popular and dazzling festivals in Bhutan. Featuring dances performed by trained monks and laymen in amazing masks and costumes, tsechus are one of the best ways toexperience the ancient living culture of Bhutan. You will mingle with devotees, monks and lay people dressed in elaborate silk-brocade vestments performing sacred dances depicting the battle between desire and the search for Nirvana. All this against a background of haunting trumpets, drums, cymbals, chants and flutes. The dances and costumes have survived unchanged for thousands of years; each dance being an exact re-enactment of visions seen by Bhutan’s great Buddhist mystics. The sacred dances are interspersed with folk songs and ‘clowns’ to amuse the crowds.

Day 3: 14 April 2014, Paro

This morning you return to witness more of the spectacular music and masked dancing at the Paro teschu before driving through farmlands and scattered villages, climbing to the Chele La Pass at 3822 metres high. You will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Bhutanese Himalayas. Descending into the Haa Valley you are in awe of the stunning scenery as you wind along the side of the mountain into the town of Haa, where you will witness a lifestyle relatively unchanged from earlier times. Return to Paro in the evening.

Day 4: 15 April 2014, Paro

An early rise to witness a highlight of the Paro tsechu, the unfurling of the silk Thangka (known in Bhutanese as a 'thongdroel' or ‘sacred picture scroll’) is so large that it covers the facade of an entire multistoreyed building and is considered one of the most auspicious sights in the whole of Bhutan, bestowing treasures and blessings on all you gaze upon it’s sacred imagery. The thongdroel is only exhibited for a few hours at daybreak on the final day of the festival enabling the people to absorb its ’dazzling radiance’.

Later in the morning you visit the National Memorial Chorten. The building of this landmark was originally envisaged by Bhutan's third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk ("the father of modern Bhutan") who erected this chorten as a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it serves both as a memorial to the Late King and as a monument to peace. Bhutan is famous for the quality of its architecture, which finds its greatest expression in the dzongs and chortens (scared memorial ‘stupas’), which are at once Buddhist monasteries and fortresses fulfilling a sacred function and administrative and judicial offices of each region. Then it’s on to the Takin Reserve, a wildlife reserve area for the National Animal of Bhutan. Originally a mini-zoo, it was converted into a reserve when it was discovered that the animals refrained from inhabiting the surrounding forest even when set free. The local mythology related to declaring the Takin as the National Animal of Bhutan is dated to the 15th century. A Tibetan saint by the name Drukpa Kunley, popularly called by the epithet “The Divine Madman” is credited with creating the Takin with unique features. Drukpa Kunley, who was not only a religious preacher but also a proficient tantric (the esoteric or secret form of Mahayana Buddhism) master, was requested by the people of Bhutan during one of his religious lectures to conjure a miracle before them. The adept agreed to do so provided he was fed a whole cow and a whole goat for lunch. Once served, he devouredthe food of both animals and left out the bones. He then took out the head of the goat and fixed it to the skeleton of the cow and uttered mystical mantras and the magic worked. With a snap, he created a live animal, which had the head of the goat and the body of the cow. It is said the animal sprang up and moved on to the meadows to graze!

Each major valley has its dzong, and late today we visit Tashichho Dzong 'The Fortress of the Auspicious Religion', the finest in the Thimpu Valley. The beautiful mediaeval fortress-monastery now houses most of the Government's offices as well as the King's Throne room. It is also the summer residence of Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot. In the evening you may have time to visit the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and privately owned crafts shops, which offer a wide range of handcrafted products, including the splendid thangkha paintings and exquisitely woven textiles for which Bhutan is famous.

At some stage in Paro you might visit the post office as Bhutan has some of the world’s most spectacular postage stamps. These are great visual texts for your classrooms as the images reveal much of the Bhutanese culture and environment.

Day 5: 16 April 2014, Paro to Punakha or Wangduephodrang

This morning you visit the National Library which houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature, with some works dating back several hundred years. Visit the nearby Folk Heritage Museum and the Institute of Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School), where a six-year training course is given in the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. It is particularly famous for religious thangkha paintings. Also visit Textile & Folk Heritage Museum, a fascinating testimony of Bhutan's living traditions.

After lunch, you drive up to Dochu-la pass (3,088m/ 10,130 ft) stopping briefly here to take in the view and admire the chorten, mani wall, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road. If skies are clear, the following peaks can be seen from this pass: Masagang (7,158m), Tsendagang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m ), Jejegangphugang (7,158 m ), Kangphugang (7,170 m ), Zongphugang (7, 060 m ), a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana - finally Gangkar Puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan at 7,497m.. Tonight you stay in either Punakha or Wangduephodrang, with its bustling markets famous for its bamboo products, slate and stone carvings and ancient town.

Day 6: 17 April 2014, Punakha or Wangduephodrang to Bumthang

A full day’s journey through of the most spectacular areas of Bhutan; Bumthang. Comprising four smaller valleys, this deeply spiritual region is shrouded in religious legend. It is believed to be the first part of Bhutan to be inhabited and tales of Guru Padmasambhava (‘Guru Rinpoche’), who lived here in the 8th century, and his reincarnations. The region is also known for its lush landscapes and is a major producer of apples and apple juice. Previously, buckwheat was the most common grain grown in the valleys, but in recent years rice has successfully been introduced to the area and this has supplanted buckwheat as the main cash crop. The valley is the heartland of Buddhism with the most historic dzongs being found here. Culturally, Central Bhutan is more aligned to Eastern Bhutan, and like the East, the predominant school of Buddhism is the Nyingma sect. The towns, however, have been developed with a mixture of both Eastern and Western design. Bumthang is also famous for its brightly colored and distinctive wovenwoollen garments called yethra. You will stop at a yethra weaving center to watch the weaving of the fine and colourful yarns which are handwoven into the famous textiles. After arrival in Bumthang you will have free time to explore the Craft Bazaar where you can find fine examples of authentic, locally produced woven textiles, thangkha paintings, ceramics, jewellery, slate and wood carvings, or the beautifully landscaped gardens.

Day 7: 18 April 2014, Bumthang

Today you will immerse yourself in the valley which is considered to be one of the most beautiful in all Bhutan. Spacious, and surrounded by tree covered mountains, the Jakar area is known as a bastion of Vajrayana Buddhism, (aspect of Mahayana Buddhism, “The Way of the Adamantine Diamond Thunderbolt’) especially the Nyingma tradition, and there are many monasteries and sacred sites located here. You will visit (please note that many of the dzongs are closed to visitors, so you will often simply have a photo stop and a walk around the exterior. You will see the interiors of the most awesome!!) Jakar Dzong, the 'Fortress of the White Bird’, one of the largest and most impressive dzongs in Bhutan housing the administrative and monastic offices for the Bumthang district. According to legend, when a group of lamas were in the area searching for a suitable site for the new dzong, a single white bird continuously circled overhead before settling on the top of a hill. This was considered a good omen, and the hill was selected as the site for the dzong and White Bird was adopted as its name. Jakar was the first place in Bhutan that Guru Rinpoche visited and thus Jakar is accorded the title of the birth place of Buddhism in Bhutan.

Your discovery of the Jakar area will include visits to Kurje Lhakhang, one of Bhutan's most sacred monasteries. A body print believed to be of Guru Rinpoche is preserved in a cave around which the oldest of the three buildings is built. The original building was constructed in 1652 by Trongsa Penlop, while the latest addition was added by the late Queen Mother Ashi Kesang Wangchuk in 1990. A huge cypress tree over hangs the building is said to have grown from Guru Rinpoche's walking stick. Then it’s on to Jambey Lhakhang, one of the 108 monasteries that the Bhutanese say were miraculously constructed by King Songten Gampo in one night. Finally, to Tamshing Gonpa which was established in 1501 by the local Buddhist saint Pema Lingpa. The two story building contains some lovely frescoes. In addition, there is 500-year-old suit of metal chain made by Pema Lingpa located on the first floor.

Day 8: 19 April 2014, Bumthang to Trongsa

This morning you will visit the National Museum of Bhutan Established in 1968, in the ancient Ta-dzong, which was renovated under the command of His Majesty, the King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the third hereditary Monarch of Bhutan. The necessary infrastructure was created to house some of the finest specimens of Bhutanese art, including masterpieces of bronze statues and paintings. Wonderful galleries following authentic architectural spaces were constructed to house the extensive collections.

Today the National Museum has in its possession over 3,000 works of Bhutanese art, covering more than 1,500 years of Bhutan's cultural heritage. Its rich holdings of various creative traditions and disciplines, represent a remarkable blend of the past with the present and is a major attraction for local and foreign visitors.

Later you drive through dense forests of ancient oak trees, huge rhododendrons, magnolias (many in full spring flower) and tropical vegetation to the village of Nobging before climbing through the Pele la Pass which, at 3500 metres offers more spectacular views of the mountains and surrounding countryside. After stopping for lunch you make your way to Trongsa, the ancestral home of the Royal Family. Here you visit perhaps the biggest and most impressive of all dzongs in Bhutan. Situated in the heart of the country, Trongsa dzong is built over several levels along a ridge from which breathtaking views of the valley and mountains can be seen. Built in 1644 by the Shabdrung, the dzong is truly an architectural masterpiece.

Day 9: 20 April 2014, Trongsa to Punakha or Wangduephodrang

Driving through the verdant forests of the Phobjikha Valley you arrive at Gantey village where you visit the Gantey Gonpa, the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan. The construction of the original Lakhang (main hall) was done with full communityeffort. Local materials such as timber came from the nearby forest trees that were cut, shaped and used for construction of the pillars, beams and windows. Building stones were extracted from the local hills; in this context a legend is also stated that the local guardian deity, called the Delep, facilitated availability of stones by creating a landslide in the opposite hill. A renowned artisan from Tibet was specially brought in to head as the team of local craftsmen. From 2000, the monastery underwent an eight year major refurbishment. It was a massive restoration work which was undertaken “to preserve this remarkable legacy for the future.” The refurbishing was planned in such a way as not to disturb “the original aura and grandeur of the monastery”. The monastery occupies a prime space in the Phobjika Valley, and as built now it is a large complex consisting of the central Gonpa, surrounded by monks' living quarters, meditation halls and a guest house. The Gonpa is located on a spur at the highest point, symbolic of the Vajrayana teachings and its practice. According to these precepts, its location is surrounded by nine large mountain peaks, symbolizing the ninth “yana.” It has no problem with wild animals, which the Bhutanese say is indicative of a lack of sufferings surrounding it. The sky above appears in the form of the eight-spiked wheel, which is symbolic of the yogic practitioners of Dzogchen. The land where the Gonpa is located is an “equanimity and altruistic intention of Bodhicitta.” It has eight auspicious signs indicative of an assembly of the noble sons and daughters from all directions. The precincts depict “a victory banner in the east, long horns in the south, six-syllable mantra in the west and stupa in the north,” symbolizing natural realization; further, the sun and moon rise early and set late, the three perennial rivers flow nearby and the spur where the Gonpa is located appears like an elephant – an auspicious sign. It also houses a school.

The valley is part of the beautiful Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, one of Bhutan’s most important nature sanctuaries. With elevations ranging from 600 to 4,925 meters, the Park includes a wide range of broadleaf and coniferous forests, alpine pastures and lakes, and even the snow cap on the peak of Jou Dorshingla. It is the largest and most intact temperate forest reserve in the entire Himalaya. It is home to hundreds of species of birds, including the endangered Black-Necked Crane, (Grus nigricollis).You will visit the Crane Information Centre. This is one of the most remote and untouched regions in Bhutan and is only just opening its doors to the outside world.

Day 10: 21 April 2014, Punakha or Wangduephodrang to Paro

Leaving behind Punakha or Wangduephodrang you drive through verdant fields and streams which have a sense and feeling of fertility and contentment ‘in the air’ as you pass through the rich alluvial paddy fields with thriving crops. The farmers of this region are considered amongst the most prosperous in Bhutan.

Thence to Punakha dzong. The great dzong is built on a tongue of land at the confluence of the rivers Pho and Mo, in the beautiful Punakha valley, which is famous for its mild climates and tropical fruits in season. The fortress was established in 1637and until the 1950's was the winter capital of Bhutan. An easy 15 minute walk brings you to Chimi Lhakhang, a very popular and revered temple that lies on the periphery of the fertile valley of Lobesa, where the borders of Thimphu, Punakha and Wangduephodrang districts meet. Being dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman, the temple is popularly considered to be a temple of fertility. The Lama lived in Bhutan around the 1500s. As an highly accomplished Buddhist master, Drukpa Kuenley is placed among the highest levels of mystics. But he is remembered more vividly for the nature of his teachings, which were administered in the most unexpected ways, often with a strong sexual overtones and inclinations. At the Lakhang you will find many depictions of phalluses, both painted in colourful detail on the walls as well as in sculptural form, giving rise to its fame as a place to wish for the birth of children.

Time permitting you will also visit the Semtokha dzong. The area was inhabited by many demons and legend has it that the particular place where Zhabdrung decided to build the dzong was occupied by a demon harming the travelers who often stayed during the night. Zhabdrung visited the place and subdued the demon, banishing her into the rock on the hill where the present dzong is located, enclosing the rock ensuring the imprisonment of the demon. Hence the Dzong derived its name as Simtokha from the word sinmo (demon), Do (stomach), Kha (on) –“ the dzong on top of the demon’s stomach”.

Day 11: 22 April 2014, Paro

This morning you take an excursion by horseback (optional) along Himalayan trails through rhododendron and moss forests to Taktsang Monastery viewpoint, the most famous and spectacular of Bhutanese monasteries. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery-hence it is called "Tiger's Nest". Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited this site, which has been recognized as a most sacred place, in 1646. Today it is a place of pilgrimage, which the Bhutanese try to visit at least once in a lifetime. In April 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure of the building but it has been now fully restored to its original grandeur. The excursion to the monastery viewpoint takes about 5 hours for the round trip including lunch and extensive viewing. (For those not wishing to undertake the trip, an alternative program will be arranged and booked prior to departure.) to view the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, 18 km from Paro town on the northern side of the valley. It was from here that the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep remain an imposing sight. On a clear day, there is a splendid view of Mt Chomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong. Time permitting you may visit a traditional Bhutanese Farm House for an opportunity to interact with a local family and learn something of their lifestyle.

There will be time to visit the Jowo Temple of Kyichu (Kyichu lhakhang), one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the famed Tibetan master, Songsten Gampo. It is considered to be one of the 108 border taming temples he built. In the 8th century the temple was visited by Guru Rinpoche and it is believed he concealed many spiritual treasures here. Arriving in Paro ther is time to wander the local markets and purchase wonderful teaching resources.

Day 12: 23 April 2014, Paro - Singapore

This morning you have an early start transferring to the airport for your flight to Singapore and your onward flight to Adelaide. On arrival in Singapore at 15:30 you may consider booking a day use room at the Changi Ambassador Transit Hotel, right in the departure areas or zones. There are excellent shopping, restaurant, café and recreational facilities as well as an outdoor swimming pool with day beds, warm showers and towels at reasonable cost. In the late evening you board your flight home. The flight to Adelaide departs at 23:55.

Day 13: 24 April 2014

Arrive in Adelaide at 08:15, bringing to an end your experience of the beautiful mountain kingdom of Bhutan.

Anticipated Tour Cost Per Person Twin Share AUD 5985.00
Single Supplement AUD 490.00

Prices may fluctuate due to changes in charges, taxes and currency. Flight times are subject to change by the airline.

COST INCLUSIONS:

• International flights and taxes with Singapore and Druk Air
• Overnight accommodation in Singapore
• All sightseeing tours with entrance fees and transfer services with private coach
• Accommodation on twin sharing basis (in standard hotels). All hotel tax & service charges.
• All meals (buffet system /include evening tea/snacks per person each day).
• Bhutan visa processing.
• All inland travel permits.
• Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) royalties and taxes.
• Services of an English speaking local guide.
• Tour development, management and leadership.

COST EXCLUSIONS:

• Travel & Medical insurance coverage.
• Drinks/Beverages.
• Visa for Bhutan (currently USD40)
• Travel Insurance
• Compulsory Tips (approx 100 USD) will be collected from each participant to be disbursed as tips, ensuring all services are appropriately tipped. An acquittal of the tips expenditure is available following the tour.
 
  Copyright © Ralph A. Ledergerber - All rights reserved |Home | Site map | Terms of use | Privacy | Testimonials | Contact us | Forum